Due to an unfortunate triple booking, three storytellers, Peter, Paul, and Percy, arrive simultaneously each to tell his own story. After some acrimony, Percy wins out and is soon telling his story- a Victorian yarn featuring, to his dismay, Paul who has hijacked the leading role. Soon Peter in turn is continuing Percy’s unresolved fable only to find Percy appearing in this. In due course, Peter appears in Paul’s Gothic story (an extension of Peter’s forties tales) and together they reach a surprisingly happy conclusion.
(The above synopsis is taken from the program of the play.)
If the above synopsis seems confusing to you, you’re not alone. I had the same reaction sitting in my seat and idly reading the programme, but, I was presented with a piece which was instead an enjoyable farce. Durham Student Theatre’s pantomimic acting did a fantastic job at making the narrative of the play very clear while also complementing the confusion which was no doubt intended by its playwright; indeed, one of the main themes is miscommunication (as you can tell from the triple booking scenario which sets up the framing device of the overarching narrative).
Gazing at the cast list, this theme of confusion is also evident, and could even pose a problem in the hands of a les talented cast and crew. Many of the actors multi-role, and indeed the three protagonists are each given named Peter, Paul, and Percy, as if the playwright is challenging the audience to get them confused with one another. However, the actors who play the three characters (Thomas Mullen, Will Allen, and Jacob Freda respectively) did a remarkable job of clearly delineating the unique characteristics of each member of the plosive trio (yes, I am proud of myself for that coinage, thank you very much!). What’s more, the chemistry between the three actors was incredible in highlighting the tension that existed between the three stories they each set out to tell.
Though the play revolves around miscommunication, it is undoubtedly a sense of community and harmony which wins out in the end, and this is reflected by the excellent comic talents of the supporting cast. These actors were particularly well-directed, which was obvious in the way that they nailed some of the awkward cues brought on by the meta nature of the play. Furthermore, their acting (or rather, overacting) style was effective in bringing out laughs, and complemented very well the farcicality inherent in the script. A particularly funny example of this was the scene in which the donkey (played by the wonderful Jude Wegerer in a horse mask) is being tamed by Paul’s character; the ensuing back-and-forth and teasing stood out in its absurdity.
There were also notable cases in which an actor given an apparently flaccid role enlivened it with sheer force of personality: I’m thinking in particular of Lucy Little as Cecelia and Ellie Fidler as Alicia. Lucy took a somewhat stereotypical and bland female role (beautiful maiden turned nagging wife) and knowingly overplayed it, turning it into an ironic parody of the sexist tropes upon which it was built. Ellie, meanwhile, gave a similar treatment to the role of Alicia, the overbearing mother of Cecelia and Amelia, turning the evil stepmother trope into a sarcastic parody with her extreme sass and sporadic cackling.
I’d also like to mention the talent of the technical team, whose lighting work in particular accentuated some of the play’s funniest moments turning them into something truly hilarious; a personal favourite of mine being the lightning which consistently accompanied the sorcerer’s entrance. A well-deserved to technical director Adam Carruthers and assistant tech director James Goodall for this and many other moments throughout the play.
It’s difficult to see the play as anything but a significant achievement, particularly considering the somewhat difficult performance space of the theatre offered. At the end of the play, when the actors bowed to the song ‘Hey Ya!’ by OutKast, I’d made up my mind that the goodwill generated by the
performance was well worth the price of admission.
My Very Own Story is on at 7:30pm, 8th-10th November at Caedmon Hall, Hild Bede College.